Direct-to-Consumer Spotlight: 3 Email Automations One Black-owned Hair Extension Brand Uses to Build Customer Relationships

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Throughout her career, Vivian Kaye has always understood that hair is a major differentiator when it came to looking “presentable”—especially for Black women. 

“We’ve grown up being taught that the kinky, curly hair as it grows out of our head is not a good thing. It’s unprofessional. There’s this negative beauty standard that we had to live up to and a lot of us got tired of that,” said Vivian.

On her search for textured hair, she also realized that many of the hair extensions and protective styles on the market didn’t actually look like her hair. Not only that, but many of these retailers were not owned by Black women.

Really, Vivian said she was trying to solve her own problem when she started KinkyCurlyYaki, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) hair extension brand for Black women—she wanted to embody more confidence in her everyday life and she felt that having a hairstyle that looked and felt more authentic would help. It just so happened that other Black women were searching for a solution to this concern as well.

"We've grown up being taught that the kinky, curly hair as it grows out of our head is not a good thing. It's unprofessional. There's this negative beauty standard that we had to live up to and a lot of us got tired of that."

Vivian Kaye, founder, KinkyCurlyYaki

Growing a million-dollar brand

After Vivian started manufacturing the hair textures through an overseas supplier, she was quickly reassured that she was onto something.

“I went to a networking event and a Black woman pulled me aside. She asked me who my hairdresser was and what my regimen was for keeping my hair looking the way it was. As a Black woman, that’s the highest compliment that can be paid when another Black woman can’t even tell that you’re wearing a protective style. Then she said, ‘I would buy that,’” said Vivian.

“That’s when the light bulb went off. I thought, ‘If she would buy it and I bought it, there’s got to be at least a dozen other women who would buy it, too,’” she said

So in the off-season of her wedding business in 2012, Vivian launched KinkyCurlyYaki—and it took off in the first year.

While social media, influencer marketing, organic search, personal branding, and user-generated content (UGC) are all popular marketing tactics used today, most business owners weren’t as familiar with these concepts when Vivian started KinkyCurlyYaki. 

But Vivian was ahead of the curve. And it didn’t hurt that her kinky textured hair business was comparatively unique, whereas other hair extension brands were focused on silkier textures that didn’t match Black women’s natural hair.

“Being a Black woman, owning a business like this was like we were taking back what was ours. We were the ones who were going to dictate what we thought was beautiful,” said Vivian. 

"Being a Black woman, owning a business like this was like we were taking back what was ours. We were the ones who were going to dictate what we thought was beautiful."

Vivian Kaye, founder, KinkyCurlyYaki

Even once the industry started to recognize that textured hair was a product that Black women were interested in and competitors started coming to market, few of them were Black-owned. Vivian knew that being a Black woman founder gave KinkyCurlyYaki a legitimacy that these other companies didn’t have and helped her resonate with her customers.

“I put myself at the forefront of KinkyCurlyYaki and that grew my brand even more because women could see that I was them. I understood their problems because I was the customer, too,” said Vivian.

“I always like to say that I started the business to solve my own problem. I just wanted to feel confident in how I showed up as a Black woman in the world. And I wanted to give that confidence to women who looked like me—and that just happens to be through a hair product,” she said.

Then in 2016, just four years after she launched her business and strictly relying on organic marketing without putting a cent towards paid channels or advertising, KinkyCurlyYaki hit its first million dollars in sales. 

Vivian realized that KinkyCurlYaki was something special. But she also realized if she could hit a million without investing in other channels, there was a huge opportunity to grow her brand further. So she started building out an email marketing strategy. 

"I always like to say that I started the business to solve my own problem. I just wanted to feel confident in how I showed up as a Black woman in the world. And I wanted to give that confidence to women who looked like me—and that just happens to be through a hair product."

Vivian Kaye, founder, KinkyCurlyYaki

Vivian’s top 3 email automations 

Since ramping up her email marketing strategy, Vivian has seen impressive results—think 40 percent email attributed revenue. 

I asked her about some of the top-performing automations that she relies on to build, engage, and retain KinkyCurlyYaki’s customer base. She shared the following:

 

1 | Post-purchase thank you

The post-purchase experience is an incredibly important time for you to insert your brand voice into the customer experience in an impactful way. Vivian does this through a plain text email written as if it’s directly from her, which she sends to customers 24 hours after they’ve made a purchase.

“Every time someone gets it, they think I’m up at two o’clock in the morning sending them emails,” said Vivian.

While these might not be the most high-converting emails (the customer did just make a purchase, after all) Vivian says that they’re one of the highest engagement emails she sends. 

“I get a lot of feedback where people will respond and tell me, ‘Thank you so much for doing and for having a business like this. I just applied for a job. I really want to make a great impression and I don’t want to be worried about my hair,’” said Vivian. 

“For Black women, that’s a huge worry. We worry about how we’re going to be perceived in mostly white spaces. I’m always proud of the fact that I can be a part of making Black women confident to the point where those emails elicit such a heartfelt response,” she said.

While many marketers will overlook the post-purchase experience after necessary transactional emails are sent, a thank you note can go a long way in terms of connecting with new customers and creating brand loyalists who you can depend on to provide feedback, share UGC, and tell their friends about their love for your products. 

"I'm always proud of the fact that I can be a part of making Black women confident to the point where those emails elicit such a heartfelt response."

Vivian Kaye, founder, KinkyCurlyYaki

2 | The abandoned cart

Like many ecommerce business owners, Vivian has found huge success with her abandoned cart automations. But she’s also gone the extra mile to tailor them to KinkyCurlyYaki’s customers.

Through multiple touchpoints that include product images, video content, and a discount code, Vivian’s created a comprehensive experience through the cart abandonment series to help customers get to know the brand and products better.

“Our average order value is $185. We realize that for some women, this can be a significant investment, so I want whoever’s buying from us to feel assured that what they’re buying is what they get,” said Vivian. 

“I want to reassure our customers that not only are you trusting me with your money, but you’re trusting me with your confidence. So, I want to reassure them that what they’re buying is legit, that we’re legit, and that we appreciate their business. That’s the reason we have multiple touchpoints. At $185, you need to seduce people a little.”

Additionally, KinkyCurlyYaki also segments abandoned cart messages by new and returning customers in order to tailor the messages to consumers based on their relationship with the brand. 

Because of the high-quality of KinkyCurlyYaki’s products, they don’t have as many returning customers as other hair extension brands. This means that when customers return, they focus on tips for upkeep or new hairstyle options whereas they focus on product education with new customers. 

The last component of KinkyCurlyYaki’s abandoned cart strategy is their discounts—but they don’t send a discount code to cart abandoners right away. In fact, they wait until the last email in the series to offer a discount and only send one if the recipient hasn’t purchased yet.

“We don’t want to train our customers to expect a discount,” said Vivian. “That’s why we only use that discount as a last resort. If that’s what’s keeping you from buying our products, then here you go.” 

"We don't want to train our customers to expect a discount. That's why we only use that discount as a last resort. If that's what's keeping you from buying our products, then here you go."

Vivian Kaye, founder, KinkyCurlyYaki

3 | The wedding series

While Vivian and the KinkyCurlyYaki team clearly have some of their foundational automations down to a science, they also incorporate automations that are unique to their business and customers—and even some that are inspired by Vivian’s previous job as a wedding decorator. 

Once a customer provides their wedding date, they’re entered into a series of email automations leading up to their special day.

“We get a lot of women who are getting married soon. For some reason, they’re buying their hair two weeks before they need it. But we want you to buy it in advance. Especially now, because we kept running into customers who wanted to exchange styles or come back for more. They want to buy more hair and we don’t always have it in stock if they’re waiting until the last minute,” said Vivian.

Especially as the coronavirus pandemic has impacted KinkyCurlyYaki’s supply chain, Vivian wants to ensure that every bride is well-prepared for her wedding day well before the day itself.

“One of the good problems we have is that we can’t keep our hair in stock. Right now, it’s not such a great problem to have because of the supply chain issue. But when someone’s wedding is coming up, we encourage them to make that purchase ahead of time,” said Vivian.

Through email, Vivian reminds prospective customers to order their hair with plenty of time to do their trial, engagement photos, and other events leading up to the big day where they’ll likely want to look their best. Additionally, because KinkyCurlyYaki carries six different textures of their hair extensions, they want to make sure that people are buying the correct texture.

“Buying extensions in advance gives you the opportunity to make sure it matches your hair. A lot of people get excited and just buy what they think their hair looks like when, it turns out, it doesn’t look like that at all. It’s a way to help us reduce exchanges and returns and prevents us from receiving all those emails saying, ‘Where’s my package? Where’s my order? I’m getting married tomorrow,’” said Vivian.

Looking toward the future for KinkyCurlyYaki

While Vivian has reduced her marketing efforts during the coronavirus pandemic in response to supply chain issues as well as in acknowledgment of consumers’ complex situations during this time, this time has also provided some breathing room for her to step back and assess what they’d like to do next.

“I’m reading the room. Is hair important? Yes, but half the people aren’t even going to work right now and we want to be sensitive to that. But hopefully, I’m going to bring in some new products to shake things up,” said Vivian.

One thing’s for certain, though—KinkyCurlyYaki isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In fact, as Vivian continues to invest in owned marketing channels like email and, eventually SMS, this is surely just the beginning of what’s to come for the brand.

Looking for more insights, inspiration, and resources to help you grow your business? Check out the Entrepreneur Growth Guide.

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